08/07/12 It’s been 30 years since the day in 1982 when five from the Plymouth Fire Department were tragically killed in an accident. This weekend, members of the PFD gathered, as they have done for the past 29 years, in a memorial service.
On July 31, 1982, the five-Brian Samuels, Alphonse Kriscunas, Gary VanVactor, Dane Hoffhien, and Randall Hansen-were responding to a house fire at Lake Latonka on State Road 17 when they rounded the curve at West School and came upon a car ahead north attempting to making a left-handed turn. It is believed that the driver swerved to avoid a collision and veered off the road, striking a guard rail. The pumper continued down an embankment and flipped over. Five of those on board were lost, but one-Shawn O’Keefe- survived the crash. O’Keefe had been riding in the cab and was thrown through the windshield.
Among those remembering the day was former PFD Chief Wayne Smith. Smith said, “It was devastating to the Department and the whole city.” He said they received messages from firefighters from all over the United States and even from some foreign countries. “The service held for those lost was held at the Plymouth High School gymnasium.” Smith said, “The gym was full and the streets of the town were lined with people from all over.” Smith said firefighters from several departments from all over Indiana attended the services. He closed by saying, “There were a lot of tears shed.”
The caskets of the five were placed on pumpers and carried to Oak Hill Cemetery in Plymouth. During the memorial services this past weekend, wreaths were placed on the gravesites of those lost.
According to Smith, it was the first time that the Department that was founded in 1836 had ever lost a firefighter in the line of duty. “It was beyond imagination and something you don’t expect.” said Smith.
Smith said the Department formed a scholarship fund at the time of the tragedy and continues to hold fundraisers for the program with funds held in the Community Foundation.
Current Fire Chief Rod Miller was not with the department at the time of the accident, but said he remembers that day. He called the annual memorial services “our family gathering”, referring to the bond among firefighters. Miller said, “It (memorial service) touches our hearts, trust me.” Miller shared his appreciation for local Plymouth resident Mike Burroughs who has offered spiritual guidance during many of the services over the years.
Miller said, “The volunteers serve with little pay and make great sacrifices.” Currently the PFD has 13 paid employees and 40 volunteers.
“The memorial service brings us together in a very different light.” said Miller.